General Archive

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

War on Christmas 2014

Santa in the CrosshairsChristmas is only two weeks away. Maybe I just haven't been following the right news sources, or maybe the issue's dying out, but I haven't heard a whole lot about the War on Christmas this year. I did Google the phrase, and found that the right wing site, The Blaze, still has several War on Christmas articles (and they're written from the oblivious position you'd expect from a site like that - how dare those atheists insist my city actually follow the law, even though a majority of our residents want to break the law), but even there there were only 10 articles from this year - hardly a raging war. Thank goodness. I'm hoping the right wing types who get so bent ouf of shape over the separation of church and state or the inclusiveness of saying Happy Holidays are finally getting over themselves and that in a few more years the only mention of the War on Christmas will be people remembering curiosities from the past.

Anyway, I've written a few good 'war' posts in the past that are still interesting. The first two links below are my favorites. The first includes a historical perspective on Christmas, and how it wasn't always the warm and fuzzy holiday it is today. I especially like the quote from a historian who described Christmases past as "a nightmarish cross between Halloween and a particularly violent, rowdy Mardi Gras." Actually, that sounds kinda fun. The second article is about the attitude that people have taken towards Santa Claus that I just don't understand. Why do we insist that children earnestly believe in this silly myth, even once they get old enough to start questioning its plausibility? Like I point out in the article, everybody has a good time with their kids around Halloween with ghosts, goblins, and vampires without pretending they're real. Why can't we let kids enjoy Santa Claus the same way? On the other hand, there's a meme* that's gone around about Santa that I find pretty funny.

Santa Jesus Meme
Source: Master Marf (no idea if that's the original creator)

I guess I rambled a bit there. Anyway, here are my previous War on Christmas posts:

But I really do like Christmas. My wife's already put up the tree in the house. I've already decorated our big tree out front. My daughter's been checking her advent calendar every day. I'm close to having more Christmas songs stored on my computer than what's actually possible to listen to on Christmas Day. And when that day finally gets here, we'll do the presents, visiting with family, a big Christmas dinner. In fact, we do pretty much everything associated with Christmas other than go to church. So, here are a few of the positive Christmas posts I've written.

And as a bonus, here are links to humorous Christmas related pages on other sites.


* I really don't like how to many people, the term, meme, has become synonymous with a picture with a catchy sarcastic saying, rather than Dawkins' original coining, but I guess that's the way language works. Speaking of, here's one I just came across from Meme Generator that's rather fitting for this entry:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Happy Exploration Day 2014

This is a verbatim reprint of last year's entry, but it's still all relevant. I guess I'll add here that if you don't like the idea of Exploration Day or Bartolomé Day, you can always call today Indigenous People's Day. Just whatever you do, don't celebrate that horrible excuse for a human being, Christopher Columbus.

Moon PrintToday is traditionally celebrated as Columbus Day, but Columbus really was a horrible excuse for a human being. It's not just the myth about him proving the world was round, or lucking into finding a continent that nobody knew existed, but his horrible, horrible treatment of the natives and even the Spaniards in the first Spanish colony in the Americas.

The Oatmeal has a new webcomic explaining just how bad of a person Columbus was, in more detail than I've done and in a more entertaining way than I could do. I highly recommend going to read it:

The Oatmeal - Christopher Columbus was awful (but this other guy was not) Modified Portion of The Oatmeal's Christopher Columbus Comic

While the Oatmeal proposes changing the holiday to Bartolome Day, I prefer a proposal I read before, changing it to Exploration Day. I could simply link to that old entry, but if you're here already reading this, I'll save you the click. Below is an excerpt of the main portion of that old entry, Happy Exploration Day:

I've written briefly about Columbus a couple times before, Debunking a Columbus Myth and Columbus Day. There are a lot of misconceptions about Columbus and his role in history - misconceptions that are still being taught to my middle school daughter, by the way. In reality, he was a bit of a crank. The concept of the Earth being a globe had been known for thousands of years prior to Columbus. In fact, Eratosthenes had calculated the size of the earth to a very accurate degree back around 240 BC (or BCE). Why Columbus had such a hard time securing funding for his trip was that he was so far off in his estimate of the size of the Earth - 15,700 miles in circumference vs the true 25,000 miles. Educated people knew that in theory, you'd eventually end up in Asia by sailing west, but they didn't think any of the ships of the time would allow someone to carry enough supplies to complete the journey. And they were right. Had there not been two unknown continents, Columbus and his men would have starved to death. And Columbus never did figure out that he'd discovered a new continent. He went to his dying day thinking he'd found islands off the coast of Asia.

And if his technical incompetence weren't enough, Columbus was a pretty ruthless governor. To quote an article from The Guardian:

As governor and viceroy of the Indies, Columbus imposed iron discipline on the first Spanish colony in the Americas, in what is now the Caribbean country of Dominican Republic. Punishments included cutting off people's ears and noses, parading women naked through the streets and selling them into slavery.

His actions were so bad that he was arrested and taken back to Spain in shackles. He later received a pardon from the crown, but only after a new governor was put in charge of the colony.

Granted, Columbus was important historically. His unintended discovery of the New World set off a wave of European exploration that changed the course of history. But why do we have a holiday celebrating this tyrant who only lucked his way into the history books instead of starving at sea?

If what we truly want to celebrate on this day is the spirit of exploration, then why not just come out and make that the focus of the holiday? Make a day that honors those like Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Lindbergh, Armstrong and Aldrin, the Wrights, Amundsen, Hillary, Cousteau, the engineers behind the Mars rover. Make a day that honors all those that push the frontiers of our knowledge.

More Info:

I'll note that after I shared some of that information with my wife and daughter, we began using 'Christopher Columbus' as a profanity in place of a certain orifice that everybody has. e.g. Bill O'Reilly can be a bit of a Christopher Columbus when he starts yelling at his guests. I think that's the most appropriate way to remember his legacy.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Website Update - Chile Relleno Recipe

I've added a new recipe to my How To page, Chiles Rellenos. It's a recipe from one of my sisters-in-law. Even though it's an easy recipe, it is time consuming. Plan on a solid 3 hours from start to finish if you plan to try making them. They're really very good, though, and worth the effort.

Chile Relleno

Image Credit: Me

Monday, July 28, 2014

OK vs. Okay

A-OKThere are four common ways I've seen to spell the term referenced in the title of this post - O.K., OK, ok, or okay. Apparently, three of those are accepted spellings, - O.K., OK, and okay, are all okay, but ok isn't.

There are a whole host of proposed etymologies for the term, but the one that seems most likely is actually similar to a popular trend right now. The same way people now use LOL, TLDR, or WTF, people back in the 1800s were using their own acronyms. But the added twist back then was to intentionally misspell the words. So, 'all correct' became 'oll korrect' became 'O.K.' and 'OK'. The 'okay' spelling doesn't appear until around 60 years later.

Different style guides recommend the different spellings, but I definitely prefer 'okay'. It may not be the original spelling, but it just looks better, and with the way the meaning of the term has morphed so much, I don't mind the spelling morphing a bit. And especially with the convention of using all caps to signify shouting, I can't read 'OK' without hearing it in my head as someone shouting the word, instead of just 'okay', which sounds like someone just saying it in a normal voice.

Anyway, not a terribly important subject nor a particularly long post, but there you go.

More Info:

Image Source: Wikipedia

Friday, June 27, 2014

Whiskey Blind Taste Test

I like whiskey. I don't drink it nearly as often as beer or wine, but I enjoy it when I do. And I've been slowly accumulating a small collection of different types of whiskey - 9 bottles as of right now*. These range from Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon at the low end, to 15 year old The Macallan Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky at the top end (price-wise, not necessarily taste-wise, as you're about to read - and yes, it's The Macallan).

My Current Whiskey Collection

With my daughter and I being the nerds we are, we decided to do a blind taste test to see how they all compared. Just how good were the more expensive whiskeys? Were they worth the price and reputation? Granted, these are different varieties of whiskey, so it's not really a straight comparison, but it's still interesting (plus a good excuse to sip on some whiskey).

We weren't super scientific in our methodology, but we tried to be fair. My daughter put a little bit of each whiskey into a shot glass while I was in the other room, writing down which whiskey was in each glass, and then I came back in and tasted them all and ranked them. It was only a little per glass and only taking sips, or else by the end of 9 full shots in a few minutes, I wouldn't have cared about rankings. We repeated the same routine a few nights later for comparison.

It's pretty obvious that all the different whiskeys have their own unique flavors, but it's hard to actually rank them in order of preference (maybe I just have an underdeveloped whiskey palate). There were basically three standouts that were my favorites, one that was a standout in the other direction that I didn't particularly like, and then the rest that were all good but that I had a hard time favoring any over the others.

My top three were Ledaig, Oban, and Evan Williams, in that order. The one I didn't like much at all was Jim Beam. And then in the middle were all the others. And even though my preferences weren't huge, I did my best to rank them in order - 12 year old Glenlivet, The Macallan, Black Velvet, Jack Daniel's Old No. 7, and Jim Beam Devil's Cut. Keep in mind that The Macallan was the most expensive bottle I had, and it ended up in that middle group. And the funny thing is, up till that point I'd been touting The Macallan as so much smoother than the normal whiskeys, and the Evan Williams as rubbing alcohol. It's amazing how much of an influence labels and expectations can have on our perceptions. Though somewhat in my defense, I'd said all along that the Oban and Ledaig were my favorites, so my non-blind perceptions weren't completely off base. But Ledaig and Oban both also have very distinct peaty flavors, so I wonder if they'd still be my favorites if I found cheaper peaty whiskeys.

...

Originally, this entry was going to stop with the above paragraph, but like I said, I'm a nerd. I couldn't just leave it at that, so I decided to plot up these results and see if there were any noticeable trends. So, here are three different graphs. First is each whiskey with the price per bottle, in the order that I ranked them. The three groups are distinguished by color.

Whiskey Prices
Whiskey prices per 750 ml bottle, based on Spec's Texas Superstore - Red: My favorites, Blue: Still taste really good, but hard to rank compared to each other, Grey: Not so good

Next, I did a very simple plot of price vs. rank, and had Excel draw in a trend line.

Whiskey Price Trends

Third, I broke it down by groupd described above, averaged the price per group, and had Excel draw a trend line for that. Group 1 were my 3 favorites. Group 2 included the whiskeys that I liked but didn't have too strong of a preference of any over the others, and Group 3 was really only one whiskey, not a group, the Jim Beam that I didn't particularly like.

Whiskey Prices

So, there does appear to be a trend where I do like more expensive whiskey better than less expensive whiskey on average, but there's a lot of scatter in that plot. In fact, my third favorite whiskey, in my standout group (Group 1), was the second cheapest. Those rankings are also very subjective. I wouldn't be surprised if I did this test on another day and came out with slightly different results. Plus, it's not like a sample size of 9 is particularly big.

Like I said, I like whiskey, but I don't drink it a lot, so take these results for what they are. Still, I found it interesting that even if there was some correlation between cost and my personal preferences, how much variation there was around that trend.

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*I always say that it's not people with large alcohol collections that you have to worry about, but rather the ones who drink it too fast to build up a collection.

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